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Ambrosius
Bosschaert the Elder

Netherlands 
1573−1621
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Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573—1621) was a Flemish painter of the golden age of Dutch painting. He is best known for his rich coloured floral still lifes. Bosschaert began his career in Antwerp in 1588. From 1593 to 1613, he worked in Middelburg, then in Utrecht (since 1616) and in Breda.
Bosschaert was one of the first artists to establish floral still life as an independent genre of Dutch art. The accuracy of the image and the harmony of colours make it possible to place Bosschaert’s works on a par with his contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, like most Dutch and Flemish artists, was not a generalist, he specialized in still lifes with flowers. Immediately behind the fragile charm of flowers, a hazy and vast world opens up. The artist believed that we can see flowers, they are small, bright and beautiful, but the world on the other side is limitless. It is on the other side in every sense of the word. Bosschaert accepted this and challenged unconquered nature. He put seashells on the windowsill, put flowers in a vase shimmering with sculptural images. Everything attracts attention here — the architectural framing, the objects on the windowsill, and the bright flowers themselves. The artist managed to put huge emotional reserve into the picture; he seemed to be going to outwit time, examining and describing fragile and short-lived creatures. In his Vase of Flowers painting (circa 1618, Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague), there is a hidden, but deliberate pathos. Bosschaert shows flowers in all their splendour, focusing on the tallest flower. Nevertheless, all the plants would soon wither, several leaves have already been devoured by insects, and several fallen inflorescences lie below. Only the shells and the vase itself would remain unchanged — they will survive the multicoloured beauty of flowers. Everything here is not what it seems at first glance. The complex splendour of shells is associated with death, these are the empty tombs of sea creatures, once they contained life, which is personified in the images of the fly, the dragonfly and the caterpillar. Moreover, a gentle push is enough for the vase to fall through the window. Bosschaert constantly reminds us that everything is mortal in the material world. In his Flowers in a Glass Vase (1614, National Gallery, London), the bouquet consists of simple flowers that are not actually in a vase, but in a wine glass. Just as in the famous Vase of Flowers, Bosschaert makes us understand that the magical nature of flowers is as intoxicating to the eyes as wine. A fly crawling in the foreground also carries a hint: only an insignificant and devoid of feelings can turn its back on such an amazing sight as a bouquet of flowers.
Bosschaert began his career in Antwerp in 1588. From 1593 to 1613, he worked in Middelburg, then in Utrecht (since 1616) and in Breda. Bosschaert was one of the first artists to establish floral still life as an independent genre of Dutch art. The accuracy of the image and the harmony of colours make it possible to place Bosschaert’s works on a par with his contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder. On Bosschaert’s canvases, butterflies or shells are often depicted next to bouquets of flowers. In many cases, flowers begin to wit, which introduces an allegorical motif of the frailty of life (vanitas) into Bosschaert’s canvases. The artistic direction of Ambrosius Bosschaert was continued by his three sons, Ambrosius Bosschaert II, Abraham Bosschaert and Johannes Bosschaert, as well as his brother-in-law Balthasar van der Ast. Their works, generally very numerous, are invariably desirable at art auctions.


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